This year has been an absolute barnstormer for live underground music in and around the North West of England. The bar was set ridiculously high early on with the post-metal onslaught of Oathbreaker at Manchester’s Star and Garter last January and despite intense competition, nothing has topped it. The lineup for that show introduced us to the crushing power of Svalbard and the headline act were simply phenomenal.
If Svalbard and Oathbreaker took the accolade of the best individual show of 2017, the crowning jewel of the festival calendar was certainly Manchester Punk Festival. Some of the biggest names in punk rock once again shared a stage with the creme de la creme of underground talent from the UK and further afield. The April weekender consistently proves that enough likeminded folk with a staunch commitment to DIY ethics and organisation can put on the most grandiose of spectacles.
Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to get to many more festivals in a professional capacity this summer, but we did cover the final outing one of Manchester’s most legendary underground nights. The punk rock and dub step slobber knocker that is Punx Inna Jungle promised to be simply far too debaucherous to pass up. Of course, it turned out it was. Rusholme’s Antwerp Mansion once again provided a suitably gritty backdrop for such a potent blend of anarchic acts to perform for a crowd united by a keen sense of rebellion and revelry.
Another highlight of 2017 was the relaunch of The Old Town House in Warrington. The North of England is hardly short of decent promotors or bands these days but when it comes to dedicated venues, there’s a noticeable absence. Jen and Cait of folk punk duo Hello Mabel have done a sterling job of transforming the space they’ve taken on. Along with their dedicated team, they’ve been hard at work providing touring bands the full hospitality package that’s standard issue on the continent but a rarity in the UK.
As we moved into Autumn, our mutual love of retro gaming and live music coalesced effortlessly at the Arcade Club. EZXP gave the crowd at the largest video games arcade in the UK an exhibition of chip-tune-shred that was guaranteed to tickle the nostalgia glands of all in attendance.
It’s been a busy one, for sure but there’s time for one more. A New Year’s Eve show hosted by devoted punk rock promotors Anarchistic Undertones. Last year’s edition with now-defunct ska unit John Player Specials was worthy enough. It therefore seemed a safe bet on what’s traditionally the most over-hyped night of the year.
AU Present: Riggots, ROTPM, Stand Out Riot, Wadeye, Habits, and The Mighty Bossmags
I’d arrived in town freakishly early. As my train pulled into Deansgate station, the last setting December sun cast a comforting orange glow over the city of Manchester. Actually, it didn’t. It was absolutely hammering it down. That’s not quite as romantic though.
The plan was typical. A few beverages, a spot of dinner, and hit the gig. Shit. It was so early. I’d be howling by half eight, let alone midnight. Fortunately, however, Josh forgot his spare battery. This meant we’d spend the next hour and a half fucking around the Greater Manchester tram network instead of punishing our livers. It didn’t feel like it, but it was probably for the best.
When we finally arrived at Gulliver’s on Oldham Road, we were still uncharacteristically early. By that, of course, I mean there we hadn’t missed any acts yet.
“The Mighty Bossmags”
Opening the festivities were The Might Bossmags. I don’t have a fucking clue what a Bossmag is, but it sounds wretchedly scouse. Turns out the carnival-punk clusterfuck that is The Mighty Bossmags play out of Warrington. Close enough though, eh?
Knowing one of five piece’s members well and having listened to their debut release, “The Hunger EP”, I figured we’d be treated to something a little different from the last show of the year’s opener. We were not disappointed. A long cry from the stuff we usually cover here at WFTU, The Mighty Bossmags concoct a brew which swings between psychobilly, surf rock, reggae, ska, blues, and even country. Meanwhile, grounding the package firmly in a punk rock milieu are the guitars and drums. Kieron Bache’s chugging riffs and occasional shredding in tunes like “Gazebo Anthrax” perfectly complements the pounding rhythmic accompaniment. That said, the band’s main draw are the countless atmospheric touches which nod towards the aforementioned genres. Heavy use of guitar effects along with melodica and synth sections help to create a suitably spooky ambience and the vocal trickery of singer Bobby Stickah amplify this to a point that would likely shame Tim Burton. Particularly effective was the use of a set of keys which Bobby gently jangles down the mic. Such skeletal sound effects add even more theatre to a performance which was chocked full of it.
“The Mighty Bossmags”
To kick off a night of pure revelry, The Mighty Bossmags made for a superb choice. An already sizeable crowd jived down at the front of the stage to be occasionally joined by Stickah masquerading as a wolverine or feline, throwing shapes along to the bewitching soundtrack coming from the rest of the band. Unfortunately, though, an overzealous sound engineer cut the set short before they could play their final song. The band looked disappointed to not finish where they wanted to but with five more acts to follow, punctual changeovers are key to a successful evening.
The Mighty Bossmags were followed by North Wales’ Habits. The post-hardcore four-piece play a self-deprecating blend of hopelessly emotional sounds without any of the sort of whining that makes some turn their nose up at the genre. It’s heavy and dangerous with a metallic edge yet it rarely feels the need to get overly flashy or technical. Hints of doom metal and Seattle-era grunge sit well within the soundscape the group create.
Vocalist Sam Davies writhes across the stage. Shot down, shirtless, and sweaty. His performance was certainly the highlight of the set, although some issues with the levels made it less pleasing sonically than it was visually. The vocals themselves seemed far too loud in the mix. It’s fine to be able to hear what a singer has to say but in post-hardcore, it feels more appropriate to have them strain hopelessly against the music, ever-at risk of head or neck veins exploding. Unfortunately, the critique of the sound during Habits’ set doesn’t end there. The guitar on the night lacked the venom you’d expect from the genre. Instead, the vintage Fender axe felt at odds with a superbly-forceful bass tone that would demand approval from even the filthiest of sludge acts. This criticism is a matter of taste, of course, and if Habits read this, they might think “fuck this guy’s opinion”. It just feels like a missed opportunity when the songs and their performance hit as hard as they do. A bit of extra guitar-filth certainly wouldn’t go amiss.
Next up was the always entertaining Wadeye. Prior to their performance, it was clear that they had some tomfoolery up their sleeves. A vulgar mess of Oasis sounds played down the PA with guitarist Adam McKeon teasing memorable riffs from the legendary local band’s catalogue. When they began their set, vocalist Tom Skinkis gripped the string of a party popper between his teeth and whipped back his head, yanking on the detonation cord. The legendary-in-their-own-right-locals riffled through their catalogue of angry anti-establishment anarcho ska punk with typical venom, despite Tom later confessing that he was feeling too unwell to stick around until midnight. Songs off a forthcoming full-length album feature greater musical technicality than previous material yet the animosity with which they’re delivered is consistent with the band’s ethos.
Part way through their set, Wadeye’s masterplan was revealed. Bass player Bobby announced, “we have a special guest for the next song” as Tom prepared for his “Stars in Their Eyes reveal” moment. As another band member declared, “did anyone say Oasis?”, Tom stood tall sporting a paper Liam Gallagher mask with the most hilariously square mouth hole cut out. He adjusted his mic stand to the height associated with his costume, threw arms behind him, tilted his head back, and the band blasted out a rendition of the nineties indie classic “Digsy’s Dinner”.
As usual, the sermon orchestrated by Wadeye was fierce and chaotic – everything you’d hope from the group. Their militant delivery, bottles of pink Lambrini on stage, and Tom fixing minor technical difficulties himself mid-song all added to the lawless free-for-all that is a night with Manchester’s most dangerous.
Following Wadeye was the most anticipated act of the night. Stand Out Riot have been lying low for the last two years and given that it was such a rare outing, the crowds were out in force for them. The lineup assembled for the show was that which performed on the classic 2008 album “Carnival Militia”. Duck arse-tight, it was like the six-piece ska-core troop had never been away. Lead vocalist Francis Hunt alternates between trombone blasts and spraying lightning lyrics. His fatigue between tracks hinted at the group’s hiatus but sonically he was on top form. Tunes like “Depth Charge” resonated with the packed room and the adoration for one of Britain’s finest brass-led punk bands ever was clear. The crowd bounced along with politically-focused tunes like “British Nazi Parade” and floor of Gulliver’s bowed in time with each beat.
Stand Out Riot
All members wore mammoth grins throughout the set and it’s always a joy to watch a group loving every minute of their performance. Particularly passionate was violinist Tessa Hunt. With a huge smile a permanent fixture on her face, she displayed her mastery of her instrument at every opportunity. This culminated with her trading sections of shred with the guitarist in an epic exhibition of virtuosity.
Stand Out Riot’s return performance was one of the highlights of an evening of many. For metal-infused party ska, there are few bands past or present that can hold their own against them. However, for a successful “wall of death”, you’ll probably be better served elsewhere.
Stand Out Riot
Taking the stage next were local punk stalwarts Revenge of the Psychotronic Man. Their catalogue spans an impressive fourteen years and their rapid delivery of classic British hardcore tunes makes them a firm favourite in the scene. After AU and John Player Specials’ colossal fuck up of the NYE countdown last year, the safer team of ROTPM were entrusted with the all-important midnight timeslot. They handled the responsibility admirably and as the clock struck twelve, the scene in Gulliver’s was as typical as in any bar across Manchester. The tightly-knit scene had a what amounted to a communal embrace and the show and general party continued.
Revenge of the Psychotronic Man
The set of the experienced three-piece was delivered expertly, despite the hour and the occasion. Guitarist Matt Woods demonstrated their label’s mantra of “get pissed, talk shit, and dance like an idiot” by downing Jägermeister mid-riffage – an admirable feat of multitasking and a perfectly shambolic display of alcoholism.
The final act of the evening was Wigan’s finest. Regular readers of WFTU will know Riggots well. They once requested the worst review possible of their live show. Of course, I obliged. I slated them for guitarist and vocalist Martin Battle’s Hitler-hairdo and brought up the fact that drummer Rob Fairhurst could probably crush a man with a glance. When pressed to criticise their music, however, I couldn’t. They’re just too fucking good.
Riggots’ sound is one of absolute chaos backed by military precision and a sense of timing reminiscent of Johnny Unitas. If you’ve any interest in UK underground music, you’ve probably seen them perform in their classic two-piece lineup. Going forward, they’ve decided to add some extra low end to their racket. Joe Heaton (of now-defunct, Manchester-based tech metallers Aliases) on bass creates a soundscape unlike any other. He slaps, taps, harmonises and tickles with the best of them. His roots in metal bands shines through his playing but never dominates Riggots’ uniquely powerful sound.
Only the barest hints of other bands are discernible through the frantic jazz-metal-punk-funk blasts of ordered bedlam that is Riggots. Sometimes it’s a touch of Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood, sometimes a hit of Fugazi, or Bowie. The sound never dwells on a single influence for long enough to create anything more than a sketch of it within several others, personal to those creating it. This makes the now-three-piece incredibly hard to pigeonhole which is a pain to write about but a pleasure to observe.
Usually a Riggots show is a room full of people with jaws close to the floor. There’s not often a huge amount of movement since people are too baffled by the constant switching of time signatures and technical prowess of the musicians on display to dance, circle-pit, or do anything other than stare in awe. The date and time of their performance meant things were different tonight, however. Martin Battle has a habit of dragging his mic stand off the stage, so he can sweat that bit closer to those watching. This time the crowd were pumped full of festive spirit and suitably limbered up from the quality lineup preceding Riggots. As Martin moved from the stage to the floor, he was met by a body flailing in his direction. This sent his mic stand crashing to the floor behind him in dramatic fashion – something that I felt was long overdue given his insistence of rearranging the stage furniture. As the set finished, the fiered-up crowd bayed for more. The fast exit of the sound engineer should have been enough to halt proceedings at a regular show. Fortunately, however, this wasn’t your average live show. It’s DIY punk and typically that means sorting shit yourself. Andy Dazzler of hardcore band Dead Neck fired up the PA up for a couple more tunes and allowed the unruliness to come to its rightful conclusion.